MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs have at least one big idea for getting more from their leadoff spot.
“Get Rickey Henderson back,” manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday.
Would you settle for Tim Raines?
Barring something dramatic and unforeseen between now and Opening Day, the Cubs once again will rotate hot hands, matchup dudes and Ben Zobrist at the leadoff spot, stirring the mix liberally to create the best on-base potion they can muster — Twitter complainers be damned.
“Our leadoff numbers were actually very good throughout the league,” Maddon said.
In fact, the 10-man mix the Cubs used last year had an on-base percentage 10 points better than Maury Wills in his best year, an OPS nine points better than Raines’ career mark and enough runs scored to top Kenny Lofton in all but two seasons of his 17-year career.
“People tend to be confused because they see different names and they think it’s not effective,” Maddon said. “But it was pretty effective last year.”
Seriously, would you rather have Lou Brock, Cubs fans?
Cheap shot aside, the Cubs’ National League-leading .366 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot in 2018 was more than 20 points better than the Hall of Famer who got (was given) away.
The Cubs also ranked fifth in the NL in slugging (.454), second in OPS (.819) and tied for fifth with 113 runs scored.
“It’s always wonderful to pen one name in there, absolutely — I’ve never denied that,” Maddon said. “When Dexter [Fowler] was around, that was outstanding: Just put it there and work from there. But when you don’t have that, you have to mix and match it.
“On-base percentage is huge. Seeing pitches is huge. But I also like a guy that knows how to drive in a run later in the game because here comes 8-9-1 in the latter part of a National League game, and when you’re hitting the pitcher eighth or ninth, it can bleed into an RBI situation.”
The Cubs, who struggled all season with men in scoring position and finished among the worst in the majors there, actually hit .328 in that situation from the leadoff spot, with a .417 on-base percentage and an .881 OPS and 79 RBI. For all the things team president Theo Epstein meant when he said the offense “broke” in the second half last season, this wasn’t one of them.
So look again for a lot of Albert Almora Jr. against lefties, a little Javy Baez when he’s hot, the occasional jump-start from Anthony Rizzo and a generous amount of Zobrist.
“We have all these different candidates,” Maddon said, “and it’s going to look that way again.”
Asked how his relationships with the team’s millennials are progressing, Maddon remarked: “Very groovy.”
“I figured out I have a millennial baseball mind,” he added. “It was born right around 1981. So I think I understand where they’re coming from.”
That has been a focus for the organization since the tight winter budget forced a deep internal look for improvement. Maddon even said in December he had started reading “Managing Millennials for Dummies.” Which wasn’t a joke.
“My biggest takeaway is to understand the ability to concentrate, which we all lack these days,” he said. “I don’t even read books anymore. I read blurbs. I read all the time, but I’m reading blurbs.”
Not sure what that means for his efforts with the “Dummies” book. But he said some keys so far have been shorter meetings, more concise point-making with players and respect.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s really been wonderful.”